The last chimes produced by the Buckeye Bell Foundry of Cincinnati, under the proprietorship of The E.W.Vanduzen Company, exhibit some unique and ingenious engineering features. Unfortunately the musical intent of these features, which was to provide a choice between bright and mournful music, was not realized. Nevertheless, the engineering features deserve a close examination and some respect, for the sake of the musical intention that they were supposed to embody.
These chimes were double-action, having two independent sets of clappers and transmission cables connected to a chimestand which could operate either set (though not both sets at the same time). Three such chimes are known to have been produced by Vanduzen, and they were also the last chimes to come from that foundry, in 1905-08. Although there are some minor differences between them, they are alike in being radically different from anything ever produced by any other bellfounder.
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The primary action was very like the standard action of all other American-made chimes. Cast iron clappers were connected to transmission lines which ran from the belfry down to the chimestand, where one was connected to each "pump-handle" lever just behind the front of the chimestand frame. Each lever was pivoted at the rear end, so that when the chimer pushed down a lever, it pulled down the transmission line and thus moved the clapper against the bell.
What is unique about this is that the rear pivots are not fixed in place, but can be disengaged from the lever. That is, they act like ordinary fixed pivots when engaged with the lever, while allowing it to move freely when not engaged. The reason for this is that there is another set of pivots at the front of the chimestand, very close to where the primary transmission lines are attached to the levers. When these front pivots are engaged, the rear pivots are not, and vice versa.
The reason for the front pivots is to make the rear end of the lever rise when the chimer pushes down the front end. This pulls upward on a secondary transmission line, which runs downward from the rear end of the key to the floor. There it reverses direction by means of a floor-mounted pulley, running upward behind the chimestand to the belfry, where it connects to a secondary clapper mounted on the opposite side of the bell from the primary clapper. So the unorthodox movement of the back end of the chiming lever translates the very orthodox movement of the front end of that lever to a very orthodox movement of a bell clapper.
However, the secondary clappers were unorthodox in one respect. Although superficially similar to the primary clappers, each had a socket in the striking face of the clapper ball, holding a hard wood plug which was the actual striking surface of the clapper. (It is speculated, but not confirmed, that these plugs were made of "lignum vitae", an exceptionally hard wood that should have been available to Vanduzen.)
Apparently the intent was that the impact of the wooden plug against the bell would produce a softer sound than the impact of a cast iron clapper against the bell. While that did happen, there was an unfortunate side effect which completely overwhelmed the original intent. This side effect was a consequence of the fact that Vanduzen, like all other American bellfounders up to that time, did not tune their bells.
The common practice of the day was that bells were hung as cast, and the only concern was whether the strike tone (what is heard when the clapper strikes the sound bow of the bell) was reasonably close to the desired pitch. No attention was paid to the other partial tones of the bell, although the different profiles used by the various bellfounders did result in some fairly systematic differences in character between their respective products. The lack of tuning meant that every bell was out of tune with itself to some extent. This had never been a major problem for single bells, or even for peals of two to four bells, because they were usually rung by swinging, and thus the power in the strike tones and the rapidity of repeated striking effectively camouflaged most dissonance from the other partial tones. (Fire bells were hung dead, but were rung rapidly and were intended to sound alarming. Clock bells were hung dead and rung slowly; however, it was not the sound but the count of the strokes that was important. Likewise in funeral tolling the sound did not need to be musically pleasing to the ear.)
However, the lack of tuning meant that not only was every bell in a chime out of tune with itself to some extent, but also its partial tones could be wildly out of tune with those of its neighbors in the chime. Since clapper travel in a chime is much less than in a swinging bell, the striking force is much less, and so the strike tone is excited less strongly. Therefore, lack of tuning was more evident in chimes than in single bells or peals. Still, in the older chimes, this lack of tuning could be overlooked as long as the strike tones were acceptable. Because of the relatively small range of notes available, most playing was restricted to single-note melodies which were already familiar to listeners from other contexts. (It is true that the bellfoundry experts who played dedicatory recitals often showed off by playing two-note chords, or even three-note if the chimestand had a few pedals. But this was the exception rather than the rule, and local chimers almost never attempted to play any harmony.) Under these conditions, the out-of-tune partial tones were simply part of the character of the bells, and had no material effect on the listeners' perception of the music. This was particularly true when the chime was being played briskly.
The intent of Vanduzen's secondary action was apparently to produce a softer and more mournful yet still musical sound. In striking the bell more softly with the wood-plugged clapper, what actually happened was that the un-tuned partial tones became much more obvious relative to the now-weakened strike tone. So the chime now sounded much more out of tune than when the primary action was being played briskly.
The situation was made worse by the fact that all of Vanduzen's bells sounded less tuneful than those of the "big three" of chime makers - Meneely/Watervliet, Meneely/Troy, and McShane - with whom Vanduzen was competing. So instead of becoming a competitive advantage (as was undoubtedly intended), this ingenious engineering improvement became a competitive disadvantage.
As a result, in all three of the double action Vanduzen chimes which are known, the secondary action became disused from a very early stage, was eventually disconnected, and in two cases was almost entirely removed. Another possible result (which is purely speculation by the writer) may have been that the Vanduzen company were so dishearted by the musical failure of their clever engineering accomplishment that they abandoned chime production entirely. Investigation of the surviving Vanduzen records might shed some light on this subject.
The differences among the three double-action Vanduzen chimes are almost as interesting as the similarities. These differences are mainly in how the chimestand was shifted between the primary action and the secondary action.
The chimestand of Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, is the most primitive of the three in its shift mechanism. (While this chime is the last installed - 1908 - it has long been thought to have been made earlier (1904-5?), and this comparison gives further credence to that possibility.) Each set of pivots is a single long rod which passes through matching holes in all of the levers and in both ends of the chimestand frame. There are two such rods, one of which is always "out" when the chime is playable. To shift actions, that rod is inserted through all of the open holes, thereby locking the levers in place. Then the other rod is removed, allowing the levers to move in the alternate action. This design was simple and reliable, but clumsy to use.
The chimestands of St.John's Episcopal Church, Quincy, Illinois (1905) and First Regular Baptist Church, Scottdale, Pennsylvania (1907) are very similar to each other, and distinctly different from the Hollywood chimestand. Both have individual pivots for each lever - L-shaped pins mounted on a metal slider bar. The front slider bar and the rear slider bar are connected by a transfer bar which is pivoted in the center. Thus when the front slider bar slides in one direction (to engage or disengage the front pivot pins), the rear slider bar slides in the opposite direction (to disengage or engage the rear pivot pins). In both chimestands, there is a slanted wooden panel behind the front transmission lines, serving double duty as a music desk and as a protection for the shifting mechanism. The panel would also serve to hide the rising back ends of the chimestand levers when the secondary action is in use.
The two chimestands differ in how the dual slider bars were controlled. At Quincy, the transfer bar is mounted inside the chimestand frame, and shifting was controlled by a handle which fastened to the center of the forward slider bar and projected through the fallboard above the chiming levers. The slot for the control handle is surrounded by a metal faceplate which is labelled "P" at the left and "F" at the right, clearly indicating that the primary action was expected to produce a louder sound than the secondary action. At Scottdale, the transfer bar is mounted outside the chimestand frame on the left side, and the slider bars extend to meet it through slots in the chimestand end frame. The front end of the transfer lever extends forward past the corner of the chimestand and carries a fat pear-shaped metal knob, obviously intended as a handgrip.
The Hollywood chime was renovated many years ago, with Rick Watson as part of the work crew from the Verdin Company. Its secondary transmission was removed at that time, but the chimestand remained unaltered when I saw it in the early 1990s.
The Quincy chime was rehung on a steel frame many years ago, and the secondary action seems to have been removed at that time, though the remains of the pulley board for it can still be seen on the west side of the belfry. The chimestand was modified slightly, by removal of the front slider bar and the control handle; the rear slider bar was locked in place by a small nail in the frame. This modified system had been disused for many years when the church suffered a disastrous fire a few years ago. Miraculously, the chimestand and the bells survived undamaged, though the belfry floor was burnt out. Either in the fire or in the subsequent cleanup, any bits and pieces which might have remained in the intermediate level of the tower or in the chime room were lost; all that remains is the chimestand and the bells in their frame. The clappers for the secondary action are gone. However, attached to the steel bell frame is the pulley board for the primary action. Possibly this action did not really use pulleys, because only eye bolts remain, and it is conceivable that the transmission lines were simply ropes which were run through those eyes to change direction.
At Scottdale, the original chimestand remains intact, complete with the row of floor pulleys for the secondary action. However, the secondary transmission lines were removed many years ago, and the ceiling holes for them have since been plastered over. The secondary clappers were removed from the bells (though at least one is now serving as a primary clapper in reversed position), and they now lie in a corner of the empty intermediate level of the tower. Both sets of pulleys remain (more or less) on the pulley board on the north side of the belfry, below a weatherboard. After years of being unplayable because the cables were rusted through, this chime has recently had its primary transmission restrung, and is now marginally playable.
Since all of the critical parts of the Scottdale chime survive (chimestand and clappers), it is conceivable that the original double action of this chime could be restored. However, doing so would not be practical unless the bells were taken out of the tower and properly tuned. Since that has been done successfully with at least one other Vanduzen chime, it might well be possible here. If it were to be done, not only would it restore a historical musical instrument to use, but it might well vindicate Vanduzen's intentions in designing a double-action chime.
Carl Scott Zimmerman, Campanologist
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This page was created 2006/11/07.
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